Dealing with the Pride of Self- Achievement
By Rev Tan Eng Boo
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18)
Above is a photograph of the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) taken on September 20, 2022 when I visited the basilica of the Greek Orthodox Christian Church for the second time since 2011. “Hagia Sophia” means “Holy Wisdom” in English. Translated into English, it means, “Church of the Holy Wisdom.” Today, it has been converted into a Mosque.
“From 1935—nine years after the Republic of Turkey was established by Ataturk—to 2020, the legendary structure was operated as a museum by the national government. Beginning in 2013, some Islamic religious leaders in the country sought to have the Hagia Sophia once again opened as a mosque. In July 2020, the Turkish Council of State and President Erdoğan reclassified it as a mosque.” (https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-greece/hagia-sophia)
Over a thousand years ago, a Byzantine Roman Emperor, Emperor Justinian, built a cathedral (Hagia Sophia) that was so magnificent that when he entered it for the first time in AD 537, he exclaimed: “Solomon, I have surpassed you!” Interesting indeed! If you have been into Hagia Sophia you will notice the magnificent structure of the building, especially the Dome and some wonderful paintings dating back to the time of Emperor Justinian. But for the Emperor to compare his ability with that of Solomon’s which the Bible records,
“And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:29-30),
is unthinkable. Furthermore, Solomon’s ability to build the first Temple is a feat that no one, not even a single Emperor, can even begin to or dare to compare their achievements with.
John Stott writes, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” (http://www.rayfowler.org/sermons/lord-i-have-a-problem/dealing-with-pride/). “Pride”—that familiar word is so real in every one of us. We manifest it almost every day. Even the disciples of Jesus were arguing who should be the greatest (Matthew 18:1-5; Luke 22:25-27). Pride is so subtle.
There is one lesson I wish to share with you about pride during my visit to the Hagia Sophia. For Emperor Justinian to say, “Solomon, I have surpassed you!” may seem to have been a valid statement, but he should have been careful, as it can be observed that the ego may be working hard to promote oneself in the form of self-achievement! It is certainly not wrong to work hard to achieve things in life. The Bible, however, has a word of warning for us in the matter of boasting:
“Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches” (Jeremiah 9:23).
Beware of boasting in the following wisdom (which can lead to a superiority complex), power (which can lead to arrogance) and riches (which can lead to self-sufficiency). These are all just achievements in one’s life, but we should never be boastful about them.
Many of us Christians know this verse (Jeremiah 9:23) very well and we ought to practice it. The prophet Jeremiah went on to say that if you want to boast, do it this way:
“but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:24).
Beloved, if you really know the Lord, you will not want to boast about your achievements in life. You will instead boast that you know the Lord and in a practical way, manifest love, justice and righteousness in your life because the Lord delights in it!
The Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechism in Question and Answer 1 states the following: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling than this,
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Our primary responsibility is to ensure that we bring glory to God through our lives as we use whatever gifts or talents the Lord has given us. You may want to think of some practical steps you can take to glorify God.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
There is really nothing for us to boast in our life as a Christian when it comes to self-achievement. But be careful, pride is subtle. “God opposes the proud….” (1 Peter 5:5).
May we always be grateful to the Lord for achievements in our lives and always be humbled by what God, in His graciousness, has done for us. We are what we are by the grace of God, so let us glorify God. Amen!